Sacred Duty, Bleeding Heart

Chapter 4

Since the hut dug into the side of the hill only had two rooms, the kitchen and the room where Fili’s cot stood, avoiding each other in such a confined space was impossible, of course. The next day passed in an even more uncomfortable silence than the days before. Katla spent most of her time in the kitchen and Fili, who was by now able to walk, or limp, quite well on his own, spent most of the day outside.

He had to admit that even if the homestead was small and poor it was beautifully located, overlooking the hills lowering down towards the shore of the lake. The flank of the hill above the hut was crusted with rocks and boulders with some birches growing between those. Another birch stood to the left of the entrance door.

Someone had made a real effort to build this place, a large rectangular chunk of earth and probably stone too had been dug out of the hillside; but instead of building a house there the rooms had been dug into the hill, leaving the rectangular terrace as some sort of yard. The main door was at the long side of this rectangle, next to it the latch into the chicken coop. The brown and white hens living there were peacefully clucking and scratching around in the dirt.

To the right, on the short side, was the door leading into the stable and the privy.

Despite his injuries Fili tried to make himself useful in any way he could; first mucking out the stables and then chopping wood. To the right of the main door was a bench directly under the small window, and Fili spent a considerable time sitting there when he was too exhausted to do any more work. He wondered about the village Katla had talked about; it would have been further down the slope of hills yet no trace remained but a small pond, too circular to be natural.

The sun was already well on its way to meeting the horizon when Fili, who had just finished stacking the wood along the wall of the goat pen and was appraising his work, realised that the goats behind him had stopped chewing cud and began huddling together. He hastily pulled his shirt over his head and left the stable when he heard it: the howling of a wolf.

He swiftly locked the stable door and shooed the chickens inside when he heard it again, much closer now. Katla stuck her head out of the door and called for him. “Fili? Did you hear that, too? Wolves?”

There it was again, closer yet.

Suddenly all colour drained from Fili’s face, his eyes widening in a sudden flash of realization. “No. Not wolves.” He ran for the door and pushed Katla back inside. “Wargs. It’s a pack of wargs!”

Katla seemed frozen to the spot for a second before covering her mouth with one hand as if to stifle a scream. “Quick,” she gasped. “Put out the fires!”
Without hesitating Fili grabbed the bucket of earth beside the hearth and emptied it onto the fire while Katla did the same with the kitchen stove.
She came hurrying back, threw the shutters of the two tiny windows shut and finally locked the door.

The howls were closer now, and were still coming closer yet.

Fili had a look around, but nothing inside the hut could be used as a weapon; he grabbed the largest kitchen knife he could find and pushed Katla behind him.

“That door is not going to hold against a pack of orcs for very long,” he muttered. “I should try and get the hatchet from the...”
“No.” Katla grabbed his shirt. “Even if they don’t see you, they will hear you!”
“Most likely.”Fili turned around, grim determination on his face. “Will the door hold?”
“It might not have to.” Katla pulled the shawl tighter around her shoulders. “Maybe they won’t see it. It’s getting dark, and they are not looking for us.” She swallowed. “Are they?”

Fili just shook his head and gripped the knife tighter. “Yes, it is dark, and no, these orcs are most likely not looking for us, but orcs do have excellent night vision and sense of smell.”
“I know.” Katla’s voice was hardly audible.

From the sound of it, they were now coming to a halt on the large outcrop above the hut. Footsteps sounded almost directly above their heads. The sounds of barking wargs and yelling orcs, muffled by earth and stone, mingled with their breathing.
They both stared upward and moved closer together.

Another yell, louder this time, a stream of their foul language, and another warg growl. Katla bit into her hand to stifle a sob of fear.

Fili’s face was a mask of dark resolve as he pulled her close and into an embrace.
“I shall protect you,” he whispered. “With my last drop of blood if I have to.”
Katla buried her face into his shoulder. “You cannot fight an orc pack armed with naught but a kitchen knife.”
“No.” He pulled her tighter in yet. “I can’t.”
“Please don’t let them have me,” Katla whispered, her voice thin and shrill. “Please don’t let them get their hands on me! I’ve seen what they do to their prisoners, especially women... please, don’t let them take me alive!”
Fili took a deep, unsteady breath before turning his head to look at her. Her face was ashen, and tears were staining her cheeks.

“You cannot save me,” she whispered hoarsely. “But you can give me a quick and merciful death so they cannot do these... these terrible things to me...”
He stared back, his face white and his mouth a thin line, and their eyes locked for a moment before he closed his. Fili then turned around so his back faced the door and, pulling Katla closer to his chest, rested the blade of the knife against her throat.
“Forgive me,” he whispered in a cracked voice.
“I shall bless you with my last breath,” she replied, her voice almost inaudible.

Above them, more footsteps and more yelling and cursing. The sound of something large and canine digging with its paws.
“Will it hurt?” Katla asked, her voice no longer shaking.
“Yes,” Fili choked out. “But not for long, I promise.”

Another yell, louder than the ones before. A lot of cursing, growling, yelling and even more footsteps. Fili’s muscles tightened, his grip around the handle of the knife becoming so hard his knuckles went white.

One yell, and suddenly, a terrible, enormous cacophony of yells, barks, howls, shouts and the trampling of a horde of creatures. Then the sounds moved away, leaving them in silence.

For a very long moment of sudden, deafening silence, none of the two moved; then Fili’s breath escaped him in an explosive huff as he slowly lowered the knife.

With movements so slow and heavy as if he was moving underwater Fili stepped away from Katla and cautiously reached for the door. He opened it a crack and stilled, but nothing happened. He opened the door completely, and still, could hear no sounds outside but the wind in the naked trees above and the soft drizzle of rain. He stepped outside, and even clambered a few steps up the hillside despite his still mending leg. But there were only claw marks, footprints and stinking defecations.

He entered the hut, and a small, almost incredulous smile appeared on his face. “They’re gone.”
Katla dropped her shawl as he stepped up to her and they threw their arms around each other, holding on as tightly as they could.

As suddenly as he had embraced her Fili stepped away from Katla again, his smile a little too wide and his voice a little too bright to be true. “I guess we’d better get the fires going again, hm?”
“Yes, I guess we do that,” Katla replied, avoiding his eyes. She collected her shawl and headed for the kitchen stove while Fili knelt down at the hearth to light the fire again. He got a good blaze going before sitting down with his back to the fire to drive away the clammy feeling in his muscles.

Katla appeared in the doorway, but even as he looked up, she said nothing for a while.
“Thank you,” she finally whispered. “Thank you, I mean it.”
Fili nodded with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
Her lips parted and her eyes darted this way and that, but she only smiled at him as well and softly closed the door behind her.

Fili stared at the door for a while before labouring onto his feet again. He removed his shirt and hung it over the mantelpiece to dry, then sat down again cross-legged with his back to the fire and began to untangle his messy, unkempt mane.

The drizzle of rain swelled into a downpour, and occasionally a drop would find its way down the chimney and hit the fire with a sizzle. Staring at nothing, Fili picked knots and tangles out of his hair and listened to the fire crackling behind him.

He was almost done when the low creaking of the door made him look up.
Katla stood in the doorway, clad only in her shift, her hair undone and spilling down her back. And while she was still clutching the ends of her shawl to her chest, it had fallen from her shoulders; the loose neckline of the shift had slipped and laid the better part of her left shoulder bare.
Very slowly, Fili got up.

“I’m so cold,” she whispered.
He held out his arms to her and his voice was a low hum. “Then let me warm you.”

She hurried towards him on bare feet and stepped into his embrace, finally dropping the ends of her shawl as his arms closed around her. She hesitantly placed her hands on his shoulders and rested her head against his neck and beard as Fili buried his face into her hair. They remained like this for a long while before Fili leaned back and gently lifted her chin with one finger to make her look at him.

“I do remember a few things by now,” he said, his voice low and his eyes soft. “I see the face of a woman, and even if I do not have a name, I know she is my mother. And I see a man I know to be my father. I can remember my brother, although I only know his name because you told me. And other faces of which I think as my friends. If I had a woman, there surely would be a face in my memories by now.” He smiled warmly and ran his thumb along her jaw line. “But the only woman I see when I close my eyes... is you.”

Katla exhaled softly and closed her eyes, and their lips met softly and lightly as the beat of a butterfly’s wing. Then their lips touched again, and with more passion, yet again. Fili buried his hands into her hair and pulled her closer, their kiss deepened and their breathing picking up speed.

Fili broke the kiss with a breathless whisper of her name, then trailed a line of small, gentle kisses down her cheek and neck and onto her bare shoulder, eliciting a small gasp from her every time his lips touched her skin. Then he let go of her, but only to grab the thick quilted blanket from his cot that he dropped in front of the hearth. He pulled her down with him and into another embrace.

They did not speak anymore that night, save for the one moment when Fili looked at her face and whispered breathlessly: “I do not want to hurt you...”
“It will be but this once,” Katla breathed with a smile and pulled him close again.

Outside, the cold autumn rain fell, but the glow of the firelight cast their entangled limbs in a warm sheen of molten gold.


Fili was the first to wake up. A startled frown appeared on his face, only to be immediately replaced with a soft smile. He turned towards the still sleeping form of Katla and awoke her with a kiss, then proceeded to make love to her again before they had even spoken their first word.

“Good morning,” Katla whispered with a smile as she had caught her breath back.
“No morning can get any better than this.” Fili’s voice was slightly muffled due to his face being buried in her hair.
She chuckled softly and toyed with a strand of his hair. “Can’t it, now?”
“No. Not when I wake up with the most beautiful woman naked at my side.”

He peeled his face out of her hair as Katla stiffened and gave her a questioning look. “What is it?”
Katla avoided his eyes, and her cheeks reddened. “It’s just... nobody ever called me that before.”
“What?” Fili asked with a playful smirk. “Naked?”
“Oaf.” Her blush deepened as she tugged at the strand of hair between her fingers. “Beautiful.”
“But you are.” He leaned over her and searched her eyes. “Stop thinking about those things these humans said. They just don’t know what makes a good woman.”
Katla opened her mouth as if to protest, but Fili shut her up with a kiss.

“You are...” He sighed. “I wish I had a way with words, you know. You’re certainly not short. You’ve got just the perfect height!”
“For you,” Katla replied, still sounding mildly embarrassed.
“Of course.”Fili flashed her a lopsided grin. “Who else is there that matters?”

He kissed her again before she could protest and pulled her into a tight embrace. “You are strong, and yet, so soft, and so supple...” He breathed deeply against the skin of her neck, and as they both were still naked, there was absolutely no denying that he did like her body very much. He lifted his head again and looked at her face, trailing a finger across her features. “And you have the most adorable blush I’ve ever seen. These strong, bold cheekbones, and that perfectly chiselled jaw... Your eyes are like gemstones and...” He sighed. “... and I sound like an idiot.”

Despite her fiery blush, Katla had to laugh.
“See. Now you are laughing at me.”
“No,” she chuckled. “No, I do not make fun of you. What kind of gemstone?”
Fili narrowed his eyes. “It must be jade.”
“And why is that?”
“It is that certain shade of green... and besides, jade gemstones are known to attract love. Or lovers.”
“Oh.” Katla lowered her eyes. “I never meant to...”
Fili cut her off with a kiss and pinned her hands to the ground with his. “I assure you it worked nonetheless,” he whispered into her ear.

They had breakfast at noon that day.


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